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Abortion bills clear house, go to senate

By Sascha Cordner

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-965815.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – About a third of the measures filed during the 2011 legislative session to place limits on abortions passed Wednesday on the House floor. As Sascha Cordner reports, the measures were met with opposition from Democrats as well as several organizations who say they want lawmakers to stop interfering on issues that should be in a woman's hands.

The House started off its session in heated debate over six abortion measures. The first one that passed, House Bill 501, dealt with Choose Life License Plates handing over their revenues to non profits pro-adoptions agencies. The other, House Bill 11-79, would stop the payment of abortions with public funds.
Republican Representative Kelli Stargel of Lakeland says she does not understand why there was so much debate on the bill, as it will be in the voters' hands as a constitutional amendment.

"This is a resolution that is going to the voters to let them decide whether or not we want the state of Florida to have in our constitution more strict with regards to the area of abortion than what the federal constitution has. It's not changing any of the policy, it's just putting in the constitution that Florida will have something more strict than the federal government."

A similar bill that would also prohibit insurance coverage of abortions had many saying all these measures are just a way to stop abortions in general, but Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Shalimar, who sponsors House Bill 97, says that is not the case.

"This bill does not stop abortions, all this bill says that if someone wants insurance coverage for abortions, they have to pay for it with their own money. It also says we're not going to let the Affordable Care Act do an end run around the Hyde amendment. We're not going to allow state exchanges to launder and funnel public money into private coverage for abortions."

Former Governor Charlie Crist vetoed that bill and another similar bill, House Bill 1397 that also passed during the Floor Session, which requires a woman receive an ultrasound in the first trimester of her pregnancy, before she can get an abortion, House Bill 1397. But, many opposed say the measure say the woman is not receiving any protections, especially if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.

House Bill 1247 would put the choice in the judges' hands whether or not a minor could have an abortion without their parents' consent, which some say it should be up to the mother. But Republican Representative Michael Bileca of West Miami says those opposed do not realize the person they are talking about is just a child.

"There's more integrity around the process as a parent on authorizing your child to go on a field trip than there is what perhaps will be the most tumultuous experience any child would ever go through. There's more integrity in saying that your child can go the zoo, your child can go on a field trip to see the movies, than there is in giving your parental permission if your child needs an abortion."

University of South Florida Political Scientist Susan McManus says what she finds interesting is how Republican Lawmakers seem to be focusing more attention on moral issues, something that has not been done in the past.

"Well, Florida historically has been described by political analysts as a very fiscally conservative, but socially moderate state and it's rare in Florida's history that social issues have been a key determinate in presidential elections in Florida."

And, Democratic Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee, along with many opposed to these bills, echoed those same sentiments.

"We have got to focus on what's important to women and men in this state, we've got to focus on employment and we've got to focus on jobs and we have to leave women free of the intrusion of government."

However, Democratic Representative Daphne Campbell of Miami Shores broke from party ranks and voted in favor of several abortion measures. She says if those opposed really want to give woman to make their own choices, then maybe government should not even be paying for their abortion in the first place.

"If abortion is truly a private matter between a woman and her doctor and the Government should not be involved as pro-choice legislators say, then the Government should not be involved in paying for abortions either."

Democratic Representative Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed of Pompano Beach says women do need the coverage and all this anti-abortion legislation is an attack on women.

"Our constituents, the people in our communities back home sent us here to Tallahassee this Spring with a clear agenda: They want us to create jobs, But folks these bills that attack women's rights, that attack women's health do not create jobs, real jobs. Instead, they create a catastrophe in the lives of families."

But, she does point out, the area it WILL create jobs in, is an area that will hurt woman.

"The bills hurt woman, they hurt families, AND they do create jobs, but they create jobs of a sub-cultural entrepreneurial group that will be performing the illegal abortions."

Democratic Representative Hazel Rogers of Lauderhill says she joined committees she believed would help members of her community with getting jobs, but that's not the case anymore.

"And, these committees are supposed to be creating and producing jobs, we keep hearing about 700-thousand jobs in 7 years, where are the plans? Instead I am wasting time on the floor talking about choices for women. Leave that to me. That is my choice, I am old enough to make those choices, and if I'm young, I have a parent or a legal guardian to make those choices with me."

Several Republican Lawmakers say they took offense to those who said they were not trying to create jobs, but at this time, this issue may be one of the most important in Florida's history. Republican Representative Ronald Renuart of Ponte Vedra Beach carried the sentiments of pro-life lawmakers, when he talked about the importance of the protection of a baby.

"Medical evidence suggests the baby developing inside a mother is not part of her body, it is unique individual that needs to be protected, and I don't believe that citizens of the state of Florida should have their hard-earned money used for abortion if they agree with medical science and they see abortion as ending life."

Though many lawmakers did say this was not a democratic-Republican issue, but a pro-life, pro-choice issue, all measures passed along party lines, with Republicans holding the majority. The measures now head to the Senate floor.